S: Mylo & Dorothy Preheim's Dakota Special
FC: The Dakota Special
1: In 1979, Parker, South Dakota, celebrated its Centennial. Among the activities was a kiddie/pet parade for which Mylo Preheim contributed The Parker Express 100. | The engine of this train was made of empty TV boxes arranged over a garden tractor. The cars were coaster wagons attached by a 40-foot cable. The popularity of this train with the kids provided the impetus for The Dakota Special.
2: The Dakota Special came into being the following winter. The bigger and better Dakota Special featured Engine No. 9 made of metal and measuring 8 feet high and 14 feet long. The engine was built over a 3-cylinder, 18-horsepower John Deere diesel garden tractor. Figuring out how to get the 14’ engine mounted on the 6’ tractor took some ingenuity. Extra sets of steerable support wheels were mounted in front of the tractor. Mylo had to figure out how to get them to steer faster than the tractor’s regular wheels and still be able to be controlled by the steering wheel. Added to the engine were a coal car and two passenger cars made of wood. The “go anywhere” trackless train was 40 feet long and could haul up to 12 adults or 24 kids. By spring, 1980, the train was ready to celebrate Parker businessman, Reuben Glanzer’s 65th birthday. Another Parker citizen, Ellen Berg, called KELO-TV about the event and they sent reporter Doug Lund and a cameraman. That night KELO's news featured The Atchison, the Parker, and the Santa Fe—while many towns in South Dakota are losing their trains, Parker is building its own! The phone started to ring from communities wanting to have the Dakota Special at their local celebrations. Thus, a railroading adventure began.
3: The new and improved 1980 Dakota Special! | Doug Lund became a lifelong friend.
4: The calls resulted in eight outings for 1980, five in 1981, and nine during 1982. After that the numbers grew year by year. Mylo and his wife, Dorothy, were the engineers for these events. In 1982, Mag and Babe Hansen joined the “crew.” (The four had become friends through their mutual love of ballroom dancing at the Arkota Ballroom where Mag had been the manager for over forty years.) Generally the men did the loading and driving while the women managed the riders. A great deal of fun was had by all.
5: Among the highlights of 1982 was the association with the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon in Sioux Falls. This charitable contribution continued annually until 1986.
6: By 1984 The Dakota Special was due for more improvements. Canvas covers added to each car protected riders from the sun and rain.
7: As taking the train to outlying areas became more frequent, hauling the train had to be made more efficient. To begin with Mylo had an open flatbed trailer on which to put the engine. The cars would ride in the back of his pickup. After nearly losing the engine on a trip to Hurley, in 1984 Mylo built an enclosed trailer that would accommodate the engine and the cars. There was a good deal of engineering involved in the mechanism for loading. Engine No. 9 would be driven in on ramps. The two cars fit side by side and the coal car was pulled in with a winch until it stood on end so the door could be closed. | before... | after... | The fleet could include the 1971 pickup, the 1979 van, and the station wagon.
9: Along the way, The Dakota Special developed several regular dates and made many friends. From its beginnings in 1980 until retirement in 2002, Mylo and Dorothy and their assistants took the train on the road over 400 times to places large and small in South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota and Canada! When they started in 1980, Mylo was 64 and Dorothy was 60! When they made their last trips in 2002, they were 86 and 82! Freeman, SD, Crazy Daze featured them annually from 1982-1999 (except for 1987-88 when it was elsewhere.) Sunshine Food Stores in Sioux Falls and Yankton hired them many times between 1988 and 1997. The Teddy Bear Picnic (fundraiser for the Children's Inn) was an annual stop from 1986 through 2000 (all but 1995). Yankton's Riverboat Days Parade was another frequent occurrence: 1984-1999 (except for 1990, 1994, 1998) Hay Days in Gayville, SD, had 13 engagements between 1983-1998 (except for 1986, 1987, and 1992). Westward Ho Country Club in Sioux Falls hired them for the 4th of July festivities annually from 1988-2002 (only missing 2001). Multiple trips to Irene, Centerville, Vermillion, Tabor, Hurley, Davis, Canistota, Hartford, Humboldt, Yankton and Lismore, MN, followed through the years. And of course there were many home appearances in Parker.
12: Through the years, The Dakota Special was featured in several magazine articles, including Grit Magazine, (1985) Farm Show Magazine (1986), Quick n’ Easy Cookin’ (1987), plus innumerable newspaper articles. One of the more interesting experiences was in 1986 when Mylo was contacted by Cal Mintram of Langenburg, Saskatchewan, Canada. Mintram had read of the Dakota Special in the Farm Show Magazine. He was building a tourist attraction called Gopherville and asked Mylo to build him a train like the Dakota Special for his amusement park. Mylo agreed and spent the next several months duplicating his train for Mintram.
15: On June 10, 1986, the Preheims and the Hansens reached the Canadian border with the Gopherville Express and delivered it to its new owner. This was after they were able to convince the border patrol that they were just delivering it—not starting a carnival business! | Cal Mintram was very happy with his new toy.
16: a day in the life of the carnies....
18: Uniforms | The first t-shirts were a gift from John & Cheryl for our 40th Anniversary in 1982. They were designed by their friend Syd Sonneborn and featured the train plus headshots of us. | When Mag & Babe joined the crew, we used the design without the photos and put our names on the back. | Our son Greg designed the logo we used later. We had many different shirts: white, red, black, blue; sleeveless, short-sleeved.
19: After being such great friends for so many years, Babe's death in January, 1996, at the age of 81, came as a real blow. Later that same year, Mag married again and his new wife, Dee, joined the crew. | Dorothy was successful in her battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2000 but Mag succumbed to liver cancer in 2001. After that the Preheims decided to retire The Dakota Special. They took it out twice in 2001 and three times in 2002 (with the help of their son-in-law, John Koch) but then sold it to friends Curt and Cena Bernard from Yankton for use at their Riverfront Center. | lovingly compiled by Cheryl Preheim Koch in 2011